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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO must ensure it can conduct future operations like that in Afghanistan, the alliance's chief will say Friday, while warning that Washington will look for other allies if Europe fails to pull its weight on security.
In a speech on a new mission statement for the alliance due to be approved at a summit next month, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen will argue against excessive cuts in defense spending as a result of the financial crisis.
"There is a point where you are no longer cutting fat; you're cutting into muscle, and then into bone," Rasmussen will say in Brussels, according to excerpts provided to Reuters.
"We have to avoid cutting so deep that we won't, in future, be able to defend the security on which our economic prosperity rests. And we cannot end up in a situation where Europe cannot pull its weight when it comes to security."
Rasmussen will say that this would make the European Union's ambition to exert more political influence in the world "a hollow shell."
"And the United States would look elsewhere for its security partner. That is not a price we can afford."
Governments throughout Europe are looking to slash billions from their defense budgets as they try to cope with the economic crisis, raising questions about whether even bigger EU powers will be able to mount expeditionary operations in future.
Rasmussen will stress the need for NATO to retain the ability to mount major missions around the world.
"No other organization can marshal, deploy and sustain NATO's military power," he will say. "I am totally unconvinced by the media suggestions that after Afghanistan, NATO might never take on another big mission.
"First and foremost, because I have no doubt that we will succeed in Afghanistan. And second, because there will be other missions in future for which only NATO can fit the bill. We will have to be ready."
While arguing against cuts Rasmussen will highlight efforts to streamline NATO's command structure to deliver better value for money and to encourage the alliance's 28 members to pool resources to reduce waste.
Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Editing by Sonya Hepinstall